Oculus revealed the final version of its Rift virtual reality headset today, but Microsoft managed to steal the show. The company surprised the world today by announcing a partnership with Oculus to bundle an Xbox One controller with every Oculus Rift and the ability to stream Xbox One games to the VR headset. While Microsoft is working on its HoloLens augmented reality headset, the software maker hasn’t been as heavily involved in the full-immersion world of virtual reality until now. Backing the Oculus Rift might seem bizarre given its HoloLens efforts, but Microsoft wants to be everywhere these days and it just bought a ticket straight into the exciting world of virtual reality.
The virtual reality world has some big players, and chief among them is Microsoft’s main games console competitor: Sony. We’re still waiting to hear when Valve / HTC’s VR headset will be available, but Sony’s Project Morpheus VR headset will launch early next year and looks set to go head to head with the Oculus Rift (which is set for release in the first quarter of 2016). In a sense, Microsoft is both sitting on the sidelines and covering its bases at the same time. Rather than develop its own VR solution for the Xbox, it can simply use Oculus’. You can stream Xbox One games to Windows 10 and that’s how the Oculus integration will happen. While Sony is betting on VR as the future, Microsoft appears to be strategically placing Windows 10 at the center of its gaming efforts.
The Oculus Rift is a good reason to upgrade to Windows 10
The Xbox One controller bundle with the Oculus Rift includes the Xbox wireless adapter, and it’s not just about getting rid of unsightly cables. Microsoft’s Xbox wireless adapter only works on Windows 10, so when Oculus Rift owners set up their devices for the first time, they’re going to need to use the latest version of Microsoft’s operating system to take full advantage of the Rift. Oculus Rift does support Windows 7 and higher, but Microsoft has its sights on getting everyone upgraded to Windows 10 and this is just another way to get there.
Microsoft also wins a key part of the Oculus Rift experience without much effort. Oculus Rift developers will standardize around the Xbox One controller as it ships with every Rift, meaning if there’s any potential of the Rift natively supporting the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 in the future, then Microsoft is already in a very good position. Oculus Rift won’t work on the Mac or Linux initially, so Windows also gets a head start as the primary platform.
Oculus benefits from the backing of a giant
While it’s a clear win for Microsoft, Oculus also benefits by not having to invest in creating yet another controller. Most gamers are familiar with the PlayStation or Xbox button layouts, so there’s little to learn here. It’s a small win, but that’s probably why Oculus is focused on the future of its next-generation Touch input system for the Rift rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. Oculus also gets the backing of Microsoft and its huge experience in shipping millions of Xbox consoles and consumer hardware. That will undoubtedly benefit Oculus as it pushes toward its release date early next year.
Looking ahead, Microsoft is heading into the biggest gaming event of the year with an early win. "We believe we’ll be able to create state of the art virtual reality experiences with the Oculus Rift on top of Windows," said Xbox chief Phil Spencer today, hinting that there’s a lot more to come. Microsoft has big plans for its own HoloLens headset, and the company is planning to show some of that next week at E3, but it’s possible Microsoft could share its stage with Oculus to offer its own vision of virtual reality. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has previously revealed that HoloLens was part of the reason for buying Minecraft, so expect to hear more about where Minecraft is heading in the augmented and possibly virtual reality worlds.
The software maker is also promising "the greatest games lineup in Xbox history," and if Microsoft has more surprises ready like those today, then it’s easy to imagine it will deliver. And if that promise includes VR as a doorway to bring people from Xbox to Windows 10 PCs, Microsoft won't have a hard time reaching its goal.